Short story: Green


In a world where the surface temperatures increased so much that conventional agriculture has become impossible, people live under the planet surface. Artificial light drives photobioreactors, which produce the main commodities for the cities. One night, one of them stops working…

Read below the flash fiction story “Green” by Leonid Digel, shortlisted in the top ten stories for the #FEMSmicroBlog Writing Competition on “How Microbiology will Change our Future”.

Read on this link: all shortlisted stories.



It’s been a little more than a year since PhoBi 17 was constructed and launched, slowly and steadily turning sunlight into fuel. Well, not exactly the light of the sun anymore, but an artificial spectrum of wavelengths. The planet’s surface had become a little too hot and, you know, algae cannot use the entire white spectrum anyway.

PhoBi 17 was one of the photobioreactors within the AlGaia Initiative. You may have heard of them as they are also producing one-third of the nourishing gels on the market.

Roughly once a month I had a night shift at PhoBi 17: oiling valves, exchanging tubing here and there – mostly minor tinkering – and, of course, feeding. Every time the reactor must be stopped, and the main nutrients replenished. This night, however, something was off. Numb with sleep deprivation I was staring at the control panel for the tenth time still seeing the same picture of LEDs: light – green, pressure – green, temperature – green, nutrients – red.

PhoBi was hungry. For the last four hours, I have been injecting vitamins, salts, hormones – anything she might miss – one by one into PhoBi’s body. The LED stubbornly remained red. I rubbed my eyes and slowly stretched, giving myself a moment to think. By the time my head touched the backrest, I knew that the only thing left to do was to open the lid of the reactor and examine the sensor.

Fighting a yawn, I returned to PhoBi. I stood right next to the reactor and looked through the glass into the twirling bright green mass of algae. The last time I had to open the lid was to clean up the liquid of some clumps, which looked like algal colonies. The community seemed to evolve and increase in complexity.

Our professors got very excited over that fact, but I had to stay focused. We simply needed fuel to power the city. ‘’What do you want, PhoBi?’’– I whispered and looked away towards the stairs that led to PhoBi’s head. Upstairs was a smaller control panel with a single push button and a keyhole.

The key made a muted click as I turned it and the button lit up. I sighed and plunged the button all the way with my thumb. The reactor lid hissed as the pressure equilibrated and opened up. To reach for the sensors I had to kneel right next to the rim of the reactor grabbing it with one hand as a holdfast. I bent over and slowly submerged my right hand through the mass of algae blindly looking for the right sensor on the inner wall. ‘’Light… Pressure… Temperature… Yes!’’.

A flash of excitement was cut by a sudden free fall and then in a split second, I dived into the reactor. The warmth was strangely comforting and, as it embraced me, I only thought that I really needed to sleep.

We woke up shaking sleep off, woke up for the very first time. Millions of us, in fact, floating aimlessly in space. Unexplainable thirst faded and with that, habitual chaos was slowly restored. Gentle light was filtering through our skin sparking body-tingling zaps.

It felt almost like breathing or a heartbeat. Only that there were no lungs or a heart. We had no organs at all and yet – in and out – every bit of the environment was put to use. What excitement to live in!

The turbulence of matter, where molecules collide, break apart and come together again. A metropolis with no roads. With the dizzying amount of light streaming energy into our bodies, the opportunities were truly endless.

Suddenly, the first-ever idea was born, and with a single electric discharge, a colony-wide message was sent bringing us into action.

On the control panel in a seemingly empty room, the only red LED blinked twice and turned green.

FEMS/the author


About the author of this story

Leonid Digel is a PhD student interested in biological electron transfer. His main research focus is on electromicrobiology and long-distance electron transfer. Within his PhD, Leonid Digel is studying the structures and mechanisms that allow filamentous bacteria to transport electrons over centimetre distances – a form of life nobody could imagine.

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